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Last Updated: Sunday, 17 July 2005, 11:02 GMT 12:02 UK
Long wait for justice in Burundi
By Robert Walker
BBC News, Burundi

Earlier this month, Burundi held its first parliamentary elections since civil war broke out in 1993. When the new government comes to power in August, it will face the huge task of trying to deliver justice for the victims who suffered years of political and ethnic violence.

A map of Burundi showing the capital Bujumbura
It is the dry season again in Burundi.

The hillsides around the village of Mparamirundi are already changing from green to brown. And when the wind blows, clouds of dust swirl through the streets.

Outside her mud brick house, Domatilla is laying out the bean pods harvested from her fields, as she does every year.

She puts them in the sun to dry, then beats the pods to release the beans from their dry brown husks. As she works, Domatilla greets her passing neighbours.

She points out Joseph, a slight man in his 30s.

"He tried to kill me just over 10 years ago", she tells me, wide-eyed, as if even now she cannot believe it. "He beat me on the head with a club."

"And that is Vianney". She indicates an older man, smiling at us.

"After they took my husband away, Vianney was the one that came to mock me," she says. "He asked me why I was not cooking dinner for my husband that day."

Mparamirundi is like any other village in Burundi.

Tutsi soldiers assassinated the new president shortly after he took up office. And revenge against the Tutsi minority exploded
A tiny country packed with more than seven million people. A population who share some of the bitterest history in Africa.

But Burundi's horror is often overshadowed by the genocide in neighbouring Rwanda in 1994. By then the killings had already started in Burundi.

Spiralling violence

Burundi's first elected Hutu president, Melchior Ndadaye
After the assassination of President Ndadaye, civil war rapidly followed
It was at the end of the dry season in 1993.

The first rains had started and Domatilla had safely stored her bean crop inside the house, when President Melchior Ndadaye was murdered.

He was Burundi's first elected Hutu president. Up to then, members of the Tutsi minority had always controlled the army and government.

Tutsi soldiers assassinated the new president shortly after he took up office and revenge attacks against the Tutsi minority exploded.

The wave of killing quickly reached Mparamirundi and it washed away Domatilla's family: her husband and 12 other relatives were killed.

"I heard they cut them down with machetes and then threw them in the river," she says. "I never saw their bodies."

By "they" she means her Hutu neighbours.

Across the country thousands of Tutsis were massacred in 1993. But the violence did not stop there.


Up the street, another of Domatilla's neighbours, Jean-Claude, is repairing a car.

Jean-Claude was 11 at the time. But he remembers everything clearly.

After the killings of Tutsis, he says, the government army arrived in Mparamirundi and they started killing Hutus.

Jean-Claude's mother was stabbed to death by the soldiers. He never saw his father again and he does not know how he died.

As the Tutsi led army took revenge, young Hutu men streamed into the hills to join a new rebel group and Burundi spiralled into civil war.

Up to 300,000 people were killed over the next 10 years.


A Burundi woman casts her vote in the recent elections. (Photo: Esdras Ndikumana/AFP/Getty Images)
Voting had not taken place in Burundi for 12 years
But finally there is real cause for hope.

Burundi has just held general elections, the first time since the poll in 1993 ended in disaster.

The vote was praised as peaceful and largely fair.

A former Hutu rebel group won a majority of seats in the new national assembly and all sides have accepted the results.

But the new government, to be signed in next month, now has to deal with Burundi's bloody past.

And that means finding justice for victims in villages like Mpamirundi.


The choice now is whether to try to bring to justice all those involved in more than 40 years of political violence
Many other countries coming out of war have had to wrestle with this same dilemma. How to account for past crimes, while holding together a shaky peace deal.

The problem for Burundi is that the killings go right back to independence.

In the biggest of the massacres, in 1972, 150,000 Hutus are estimated to have been slaughtered by the government army.

The choice now is whether to try to bring to justice all those involved in more than 40 years of political violence.

Or whether to search only for the ringleaders.

Whether to concentrate on punishing the guilty on all sides, or on trying to reconcile divided populations.

But many Burundians are sceptical of seeing any justice at all.

Political and military leaders who faced each other during the civil war will now sit together in the new parliament and the new united army.

Many fear these leaders have a shared interest in slowing down investigations into the crimes that all sides committed.

Back in Mpamirundi, Domatilla is waiting for the wind to bring back the rains.

She is getting ready to plant again like every year.

She says she is waiting for justice. She wants those who killed her husband and relatives to be punished.

But most of all she says, she wants them to recognise what they did and come to ask her for forgiveness.

"Then I can really be sure they will never try to do the same thing again," she says. "And it is only then I can know my children will be safe."

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday, 16 July, 2005 at 1130 BST on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.

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